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A Storied Affair: San Diego’s PGA Tour History

While technically the festivities began in the Coachella Valley last weekend, Torrey Pines always signals the true beginning of the West Coast Swing at NLU headquarters. A big boy track, a respectable field, and a dramatic setting on the Pacific embody the true nature and spirit of the best coast.

Did I steal that intro directly from Soly’s 2016 preview of the Farmers? You bet. But it’s true, and there’s too much good material in past previews dating back to 2014 to let it all go to waste. The Tour shifted to the mainland with the CareerBuilder Challenge last week, a mostly forgettable tournament that advanced the careers of Adam Hadwin (who dropped a 59) and Hudson Swafford (who won the thing). This week, the drama and the scenery both ramp up at one of the best municipal golf facilities in the country, San Diego’s Torrey Pines.

(Credit: Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

Torrey’s two courses, the North and the South, were originally designed by William F. Bell and opened in 1957, and both take full advantage of their Pacific setting. This is now particularly true of the the North in light of its recent renovation by Tom Weiskopf (which Jonathan Wall explains masterfully here), as the back 9 now culminates along the shore with a string of picturesque coastal holes. The South is already a beast, tipping out at over 7,600 yards to make it the longest track on the annual Tour slate (with the exception of Erin Hills).  The players have Rees Jones to thank for the length (more on that towards the bottom), as he redesigned the South in 2001with the stated goal of beefing it up for the 2008 U.S. Open. This just serves to make Tiger’s 91-hole, one-legged, one-ACL’d vanquishing of Rocco Mediate in ’08 even more impressive.

Tournament Roots

San Diego has been a staple on the PGA Tour since the early days of the circuit, which makes complete sense given its location and idyllic weather. The San Diego Open has existed in some form since 1952, well before the Tour split from the PGA of America in 1968. Before finding a home at Torrey Pines, the tournament bounced around to five different courses in the San Diego area, all of which seemingly changed names at random. Honestly, it’s not super interesting and somewhat confusing. Sample Wikipedia passage: “The tournament returned to Mission Valley C.C. in 1957 where it stayed through 1963. Mission Valley changed its name to Stardust Country Club in 1962 (and now is known as Riverwalk Golf Club).”

If you fancy a good croon from time to time, you’re most likely aware that Andy Williams was the face of the tournament for two decades starting in 1968, the same year that the Tour moved the tournament to Torrey for the first time. Williams’s obituary on PGA.com put it in no uncertain terms – the combination of the move to Torrey, the celebrity golf culture associated with Southern California (think Bob Hope and Bing Crosby), and the star power of Andy Williams made the San Diego Open into one of the stalwart events on the PGA Tour. The tournament took on a number of corporate sponsors over the years, and has been most recently brought to our television sets by Buick (1992-2009) and Farmers Insurance (BumBaDumBumBumBumBum).

Past Winners

The player who owns the most titles? LOL

Tiger Woods won his 7th and most recent Farmers in 2013; it was the first win of his latest Player of the Year season. The only other player to win the tournament more than twice is Phil Mickelson, as he rang in the new millennium with his second and third wins at Torrey. Brandt Snedeker, Steve Pate, Tom Watson, J.C. Snead, Arnold Palmer, and Tommy Bolt have all captured multiple titles in the Whale’s Vagina, and other big names who have won here include JDay (2015), Bubba (2011), John Daly (2004), Jose Maria Olazabal (2002), Mark O’Meara (1997), and DLIII (1996). The aforementioned Weiskopf picked up the win in the tournament’s first iteration at Torrey, and Jack Nicklaus took the title the following year.

Notable Finishes

2016

Last year, Brandt Snedeker won his second Farmers Insurance Open from the comfort of the clubhouse. The tournament was pushed to a Monday finish because of a hellacious wind- and rainstorm that forced play to be suspended three times on Sunday before it was finally postponed. Seriously, look at this garbage:

After just making the cut on the number, Sneds finished with rounds of 70 and 69; in his final round alone he gained 8.9 strokes on the field.

Monday dawned clear and windless, and leader Jimmy Walker had only to play his final 8 holes in even par to beat Snedeker. K.J. Choi was also in the mix, tied with Snedeker in 2nd place. But the 8 a.m. start time was pushed back two hours to allow personnel to clear damaged trees, and by the time Walker and Choi started at 10:00am the wind was whipping.  K.J. Choi, formerly an actual weightlifter, couldn’t reach the 437-yard 14th in two. Neither Walker nor Choi had a fighting chance against the elements, with Walker bogeying four of his final eight holes and handing the title to Snedeker.

2008

BigCat at the height of his powers. Tiger demoralized San Diego more thoroughly than Dean Spanos, winning his fourth consecutive Buick Invitational (and fifth in six years) with an 8-shot victory over Ryuji Imada. His -19 final tally was only three shots off his tournament record pace of -22 set in 1999. Like all criminal masterminds, Tiger returned to the scene of the carnage several months later to capture his most recent (don’t say final) major championship.

2004

John Daly won in a playoff over Luke Donald and Chris Riley (RIP). If anyone has video footage of any tee shots from this playoff, I would dearly like to see it. When I picture Daly and Donald shaking hands on the tee box, I can’t get this image out of my head:

1999

Tiger matched George Burns’s scoring record here in ’99 with a blistering 266 (-22). It was his first of eight 1999 victories, including the PGA Championship, and set him on his way towards winning literally every award possible this season.

1982

Old pal Johnny Miller held off Jack Nicklaus to win by one stroke in the Wickes-Andy Williams San Diego Open. Because the internet is a magical place, the full New York Times recap of this event is just hanging out online, begging to be read. Since you can read, I won’t break it down here, but one thing worth mentioning is the charge Jack Nicklaus put up on Sunday. This is just classic Jack:

“Nicklaus, playing his first tournament of the four-week-old season, came from seven strokes behind with a record 64, eight under par for the south course of Torrey Pines. His card included two eagles, five birdies and one bogey.

Toward the end of the afternoon, Miller said, ”I was aware of Jack, yeah.”” ‘I felt last night that if I shot 64 or 65 I’d have a chance of winning the tournament,” Nicklaus said. He wound up breaking the course record of 65 set in 1973 by Tommy Jacobs and equaled in 1980 by D.A. Weibring.”

I know players do it all the time, but it seems like every time Nicklaus went out in the morning with a number in mind, he did whatever it took to get there. Two eagles and five birdies on Sunday is crazy.

1954

This is too good, so I’ll just do the heavy lifting and fully quote Wikipedia: “Hall of Famer and San Diego native Gene Littler is the only amateur winner, achieving the feat in 1954, and awarded a five-piece tea set. Subsequently as a professional, Littler was a runner-up three times (1969, 1974, 1978).” Classic “Would you rather” – take a PGA Tour victory as an am and a five-piece tea set, or three runner-up finishes and the associated cash? One of the great grillroom debates of our age.

Odds and Ends

In which I basically just copy and paste a bunch of Justin Ray’s tweets.

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